At least 12 people have died in severe flooding in central China caused by what weather forecasters said was the heaviest rain in a millennium.
Rainfall over the past three days was almost on par with the city’s annual average. Twenty centimetres pelted down in just one hour on Tuesday in Zhengzhou, the local capital of Henan province.
Large swaths of Henan, China’s bread basket, remained under water on Wednesday as authorities evacuated about 100,000 people to safe zones, according to state media.
“Flood-prevention efforts have become very difficult,” Chinese leader Xi Jinping said in a statement broadcast on state television.
Sheets of rain quickly turned streets into rivers at times waist- and even neck-high. Floods forced subway routes to stop. Train service across the province has also been suspended, highways remain closed and flights cancelled.
China experiences rain and regular flooding each summer though each year the human impact increases as more people move into the country’s rapidly expanding urban centres.
Heavy rains have already pelted the country for weeks, including in the capital of Beijing, after an unusually wet rainy season caused the rapid rise of many rivers.
At least two dams in the province of Inner Mongolia, in northern China, have collapsed. Other dams that enclose reservoirs in China are also under threat of failing, authorities have said.
Flooding in Henan appears to be the most extreme. Videos posted on social media show vehicles floating away in neighbourhoods submerged by rain.
Those stranded spent the night wherever they could, including on buses that had to stop mid-route given rising water levels. Others were more fortunate and were able to check into hotels or sleep in their offices.
(Unverified footage of Zhengzhou passengers in flooded subway carriages below)
Some children have been stuck at school since Tuesday, unable to return home or be picked up by parents due to the heavy rain and flooding.
A local hospital in Zhengzhou with more than 7,000 beds also lost power, with staff racing to relocate hundreds of critically ill patients, according to state media.
Henan is a key to China’s agricultural industry, home to a number of food crops including millet, barley, corn, sweet potatoes, rice and lentils. It’s so important to the province that one of Zhengzhou’s attractions is a giant statue of an ear of corn.
The province is also a major logistics hub.
More rain is expected in the area in coming days.